The New Worker
The Weekly paper of the New Communist Party of Britain
Week commencing 16th February 2007
Pensions Bill - lobby your MP
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by Daphne Liddle
THE UNITED Nations children’s organisation Unicef last Tuesday
put Britain at the bottom of a list of 21 economically advanced western
countries rated on the welfare and happiness of children.
The report followed a lengthy survey which looked at different aspects
of children’s wellbeing, including happiness, family and friendship,
education, health and safety, poverty and inequality and sex, drink and
drugs. It used 40 separate indicators of child well-being to gauge the
lives of children.
It found that children in Britain are the most unhappy, the most
neglected and the most likely to indulge in risky behaviour like
drinking and under age sex than any of the other countries. The mental
and physical health of children in Britain was poor and has the most
children living in poverty, even though Britain has the fifth largest
economy in the world.
Britain did not come lowest in all categories – we perform well
in preventing accidents but Britain has a relatively high level of
infant mortality and low birth weight.
Also in education, the reading, maths and science skills of our
15-year-olds are ranked ninth among the 21 countries surveyed – but
that ranking falls when the number of young people staying on for
higher education is included in the statistics.
The United States came second to last by a whisker, indicating
that those countries with a strong neo-liberal capital culture, where
“greed is good” and making money is everything are the places where
least time and attention is given to the welfare of children.
The report’s author, John Bradshaw of York University, expressed
surprise at its findings. “This is the result of previous decades of
neglect,” he said, “and shows how far we have to catch up. We knew the
UK was high in child poverty and in the number of children living in
workless households but we were surprised that it came consistently low
across so many categories.”
Children’s Society chief executive Bob Reitemeier said: “Unicef’s
report is a wake-up call to the fact that, despite being a rich
country, the UK is failing children and young people in a number of
The Children’s Commissioner for England, Al Aynsley Green, says
that the Unicef report has accurately highlighted the troubled lives of
children in Britain. “There is a crisis at the heart of our society,”
he said, “and we must not continue to ignore the impact of our
attitudes towards children and young people and the effect this has on
“I hope this report will prompt us all to look beyond the
statistics and to the underlying causes of our failure to nurture happy
and healthy children in the UK.
“These children represent the future of our country and from the
findings of this report they are in poor health, unable to maintain
loving and successful relationships, feel unsafe and insecure, have low
aspirations and put themselves at risk.
“It is time to stop demonising children and young people for what
goes wrong and start supporting them to make positive choices. To bring
an end to the confusing messages we give to young people about their
role, responsibility and position in society and ensure that every
child feels valued and has their rights respected.”
The Netherlands came top of the league, followed by Sweden,
Denmark, Finland and Spain. At the bottom were Portugal, Austria,
Hungary, the US and Britain.
The Government has responded to the report by claiming that many
of its findings are out of date and do not reflect recent improvements.
Colette Marshall, director of Save the Children in Britain, said:
“It is shameful to see the UK languishing at the bottom of this table.
“This report shows clearly that despite the UK’s wealth, we are failing
to give children the best possible start in life.”
There cannot be a clearer signal that the most extreme form of
capitalism is bad for the young and vulnerable. And the contrast when
visiting socialist countries like Democratic Korea could not be
greater. There the people are proud of their children; they are
nurtured, encouraged and involved; they are confident, articulate and
become high achievers.
MORE THAN one million people
have signed an on-line petition against the proposed introduction of
road pricing and that figure is expected to rise. Very heavy pressure
is being brought to bear on the Government to back down on this issue.
Certain right-wing newspapers like the Telegraph are backing this
campaign and no doubt the powerful motor manufacturing and oil
companies have strong vested interests in persuading the Government to
change its mind.
On the other hand the trendy, environmentalist lobby, backed by
papers like the Independent are calling for the Government to stand
firm. They point out the damage already inflicted on the planet by
carbon dioxide and other emissions, leading to global warming, climate
change and the growing incidence of unnatural disasters like the Asian
tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.
They also point out the more immediate damage done by the more
toxic components of exhaust fumes to the lungs of people who live in
congested areas, especially to children.
They are quite right that something must be done to reduce
congestion and reduce the volume of traffic – and that includes the use
of private cars.
But congestion charging is a blunt weapon in this war that
strikes the less well off – workers on low wages – while leaving the
rich free to swan around as they always have. It promises to restore
the ruling classes to the heady days of the 1930s – seen through the
rosy mists of time and Agatha Christie films – when owning a car or
travelling abroad were only for the wealthy few; when roads were nearly
empty and there was always plenty of room in the casinos and on the sun
loungers at Biarritz and Monte Carlo – and the working classes were
simple colourful cockney characters who knew their places. And that
place was definitely not in the sun enjoying themselves or driving
about causing traffic jams.
The problem is that now the great western capitalist powers are
at last waking up to the threat of global warming, their first instinct
is to start calculating how they can make money out of it. We already
have the obscenity of “carbon trading” where rich countries pay money
to puppet governments in the Third World to keep their countries
undeveloped so the rich countries can continue polluting as they
please. It has been compared to the mediaeval practice of trading in
pardons, where the rich with a guilty conscience can buy the
forgiveness of their God.
Traffic must be reduced but the reduction must involve everyone
regardless of wealth or privilege. The best way to persuade people to
leave their cars at home is a dramatic improvement in public transport.
This has been talked about many times; plans have been put forward and
then scrapped. In the meantime the privatised rail and bus companies
have raised fares while service standards have plummeted. We even have
rail companies raising fares deliberately to discourage passengers
because of overcrowding, when they should be providing more trains with
Only in London has the bus service seen a significant improvement
but that is now threatened by steep fare rises as the capital plans to
host the 2012 Olympics.
Improving public transport has been shown to reduce private car
use but has never been properly implemented across the country. The
barriers to this remain the private ownership of bus and train
companies and a need for massive public investment in the public
transport infrastructure so that it meets the needs of people of all
incomes, wherever they live. If the Government were serious about
stopping global warming it would act to improve public transport.
Buses and trains must be brought back into public ownership and
the funds must be raised by taxing the rich. The rich must stop
dreaming of the Orient Express and start funding the Clapham omnibus.
There is also good cause to be alarmed about any new measure that
requires all vehicles to be fitted with a black box that will enable
the Government to track exactly where it is at any time.
Oh, and on the subject of lobbying the Government via their
website, they say they will accept any petitions that “are not
political” or “organised”. Asking the Government to do anything is
inevitably a political act, and asking other people to support your
cause amounts to organising. The Government has automatically
disqualified any petition it doesn’t want to recognise, while claiming
to be open and democratic. So what’s new! But inadvertently they are
telling us that that it is the organised working class that they fear
and refuse to deal with. If we really want to change things the
buzzword is, as ever, Organise! Organise! Organise!
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